Hurricane Ian collapses power in Cuba
Hurricane Ian cut power across Cuba and devastated some of the country’s main tobacco farms as it struck the western tip of the island as a major hurricane on Tuesday.
Cuba’s Electric Union said in a statement that it is working to gradually restore power to the country’s 11 million residents during the night. Initially, about 1 million people in the western provinces of Cuba lost power, but later the entire power grid collapsed.
Ian met a Cuba struggling with an economic crisis and frequent power outages in recent months. It made landfall as a Category 3 storm on the western end of the island, devastating Pinar del Río province, which grows much of the tobacco used in Cuba’s iconic cigars.
Tens of thousands of people were evacuated and others fled the area ahead of Ian’s arrival, causing flooding, damaged homes and downed trees. Authorities were still assessing the damage, although no casualties had been reported as of Tuesday evening.
Ian’s wind damaged one of Cuba’s most important tobacco farms in La Robaina.
“It was apocalyptic, a real disaster,” said Hirochi Robaina, owner of the farm that bears his name and that his grandfather brought to international fame.
Robaina, also owner of cigar producer Finca Robaina, posted photos on social media of wooden and thatched roofs being razed, greenhouses in ruins and railroad cars overturned.
State media reported that Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel had visited the affected region.
Cuba’s Institute of Meteorology said the city of Pinar del Río was the worst-hit by the hurricane for an hour and a half.
“Being in the hurricane was terrible for me, but we are alive here,” said Yusimí Palacios from Pinar del Rio, who asked the authorities for a roof and a mattress.
Officials had set up 55 shelters, evacuated 50,000 people and taken measures to protect crops, especially tobacco.
The US National Hurricane Center said Cuba suffered “significant wind and storm surge impacts” as the hurricane struck with sustained peak winds of 125 mph.
Local government broadcaster TelePinar reported severe damage to the main hospital in the town of Pinar del Rio, tweeting photos of collapsed ceilings and downed trees. No deaths were reported.
“I spent the hurricane at home with my husband and the dog. The brickwork and zinc roof of the house had just been installed. But the storm tore it down,” said Mercedes Valdés, who lives along the highway that connects Pinar del Río to San Juan and Martinez. “We couldn’t salvage our stuff … we just went out.”
Hurricane Ian was scheduled to make landfall along the west coast of Peninsular Florida on Wednesday. As of Tuesday night, the storm was still raging in the Gulf of Mexico, where warm waters allowed it to rapidly intensify.
As of 10:00 p.m. ET, Hurricane Ian was about 175 miles south-southwest of Punta Gorda, Florida and about 5 miles south of The Dry Tortugas. It moved north-northeast at 16 km/h and had maximum sustained winds of 200 km/h, making it a Category 3 storm.